Your vote may be safe, but is it being counted?

"Voting security is important, but there needs to be a way for it to happen behind the scenes. It should not require additional effort on the voter's behalf," says Claudia Acemyan. (Credit: A.Currell/Flickr)

Voting systems designed to be tamper-resistant may be missing lots of votes.

New research shows that only 58 percent of ballots using new end-to-end technology were successfully cast.

The systems are designed to give voters the option to both verify the system is working properly and to check that their votes have been recorded after leaving the polling place.

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Voting concerns such as accuracy, privacy, and bribery/coercion have prompted research and development of ways to make voting tamper-resistant and verifiable by voters.

While the three systems evaluated solved many of the security problems surrounding voting with traditional methods—such as voters being able to independently confirm that a vote was counted correctly—the systems’ added complexity appeared to negatively impact their usability.

“Overall, the tested systems were exceptionally difficult to use,” says Claudia Acemyan, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University and lead author of the study that is published online in the Journal of Election Technology and Systems.

“Our data revealed that success rates of voters casting ballots on these systems were extraordinarily low—specifically, only 58 percent of ballots were successfully cast across all three systems.”

Time-consuming and confusing

The research also shows that using the three voting systems took twice as long as traditional voting systems. The three systems studied were Helios, a Web-based voting system; Prêt à Voter, a system that allows voting with paper forms that are scanned after they are filled out by voters; and Scantegrity II, an optical scan voting system that enables someone to vote with a specially designed paper bubble ballot.

Challenges include voters having to complete new, confusing voting procedures that deviate from what they currently do to cast a vote, and voters having to use equipment with which they are unfamiliar.

“If voting is more time-consuming, then it might mean more people will have to wait in longer lines and election officials might need to purchase more equipment,” Acemyan says. “And if indivdiuals are unable to complete the voting process, it can impact the outcome of elections.”

Voting-system developers must be mindful of different types of voters and their level of comfort with technology and unfamiliar procedures, Acemyan says.

“When designing voting systems, you must keep the diverse population in mind—otherwise you have the potential to disenfranchise voters and change election outcomes. Voting security is important, but there needs to be a way for it to happen behind the scenes. It should not require additional effort on the voter’s behalf.”

The study of the three voting systems included 37 participants (22 male, 15 female) who were US citizens at least 18 years of age. Thirty-eight percent of the participants were African-American, 27 percent Caucasian, 11 percent Mexican-American/Chicano, 11 percent Hispanic/Latino and 13 percent other ethnicities.

The majority of participants—62 percent—completed some college or had an associate’s degree, 5 percent had a high school diploma or GED, 22 percent had a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and 11 percent held a postgraduate degree. Participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and had, on average, voted in 5.1 state and local elections. Volunteers rated their computer expertise on a scale from one to 10, with one being novice and 10 being expert; the average was 8.2.

Source: Rice University